Barbican, bartizan, battlement,
With the Abergavenny mountains blent,
Look, from the Raglan tower of Gwent,
My lord Hugh Clifford’s ancient home
Shows, clear morns of the Spring or Summer,
Thrust out like thin flakes o’ a silver foam
From a climbing cloud, for the hills gloom glummer,
Being shaggy with heath, yon.–I was his page;
A favorite then; and he of that age
When a man will love and be loved again,
Or die in the wars or a monastery:
Or toil till he stifle his heart’s hard pain,
Or drink, drug his hopes and his lost love bury.
I was his page; and often we fared
Thro’ the Clare desmene in Autumn hawking–
If the baron had known how he would have glared
From their bushy brows eyes dark with mocking!
–That of the Strongbows, Richard, I mean–
Had growled to his yeomen, “A score! mount, Keene!
Forth and spit me this Clifford, or hang
With his crop-eared page to the closest oak!”
For he and the Cliffords had ever a fang
In the other’s side,… but I see him choke
And strangle with wrath when his hawker told–
If he told!–how we met on that flowery wold
His daughter, sweet Hortense of Clare, the day
Her hooded tiercel its brails did burst
To trail with its galling jesses away;
An untrained haggard the falconer cursed,
Vain whistled to lure; when the eyas sped
Slant, low and heavily overhead
By us; and Sir Hugh,–who had just then cast
His peregrine fierce at a heron-quarry,–
In his stirrups rising, thus–as it passed,
By the jesses caught and to her did carry,
Lingering slender and tall by a rose
Whence she pulled the berries–But no two foes
Her eyes and Sir Hugh’s!–And I swear each felt
A song in their hearts!–For I heard him quaver
Somewhat and then–by Mary!–he knelt!–
And the Lady herself in her words did waver
And wonder with smiles. Then daintily took
The hawk on her fist where it pruned and shook
Its callowness ragged, as Hugh did seize
Softly the other hand long and white,–
Reached forth to him craving him rise from his knees,–
And mouthed with moist kisses an hundred quite.
Tho’ she blushed up burning, no frowned “Beware!”
But seemed so happy! when crushing thro’–
Her sturdy retainer with swarthy stare–
The underwoods burst; and her maiden crew
Drew near them naming her name, and came
With leaves and dim Autumn blossoms aflame.–
“Their words?” I know not! for how should I?–
I paged my master but was no spy.
Nothings, I think, as all lovers’, you know;
Yet how should I hear such whispered low,
Quick by the wasted woodland yellow?
When up thro’ the brush thrashed that burly fellow
With his ale-coarse face, and so made a pause
In the pulse of their words, there my lord Sir Hugh
Stood with the soil on his knee: No cause
Had he–but his hanger he halfway drew–
Then paused, thrust it _clap_ in its sheath again
And bowed to the Lady and strode away;
Up, vault, on his steed–and we rode amain
Gay to his towers that merry day.
He loved and was loved,–why, I knew!–for look,
All other sports for the chase he forsook;
To ride in the Raglan marches and hawk
And to hunt and to wander. And found a lair,
In the Strongbow forest, of bush and of rock,
Of moss and thick ferns; where Hortense of Clare,
How often I wis not, met him by chance–
Perhaps!–Sweet sorceress out of romance,
Those tomes of Geoffrey–for she was fair!
Her large, warm eyes and hair,… ah, hair,
How may one picture or liken it!
With the golden gloss of its full brown, fit
For the Viviane face of lovable white
Beneath;–like a star that a cloud of night
Stops over to threaten but never will drench
Its tremulous beauty with mists that quench.–
Heigho!–but they ceased, those meetings. I wot
Watched of the baron, his menial crew;
For she loved too well to have once forgot
The place and the time of their trysting true.
But she came not–ah! and again came not:
“_Why and when?_” would question Sir Hugh
In his labored scrawls a crevice of rock–
The lovers’ post–in its coigne would lock.
Until near Yule Love gat them again
A twilight tryst–by frowardness sure.–
They met. And that day was gray with rain–
Or snow, and the wind did ever endure
A long, bleak moaning thorough the wood,
Smarted the cheek and chapped i’ the blood;
And a burne in the forest cried “sob and sob,”
And whimpered forever a chopping throb
Thro’ the rope-taunt boughs like a thing pursued.
–And there it was that he learned how she
(My faith! how it makes me burn and quiver
To think what a miserable despot he–
Lord Richard Strongbow, aye and ever
To his daughter was!) forsooth! must wed
With an Eastern Earl–some Lovell: one whom
(That God in His mercy had smote him dead!)
Hortense of Clare–but in baby bloom–
Never had mirrored with maiden eyes.
Sealed over a baby to strengthen some ties–
Of power or wealth–had been bartered then
And sold and purchased, and now … but when
To her lover, the Clifford, she told this–there
He had faced with his love the talons of Death–
Only for her, who did stay with a stare
Of reproach all his heat and say in a breath,
“Is love, that thou sware to me aye and so often,
To live too feeble or–how?–doth it soften
And weaken away and–to die?–why die?–
Live and be strong! and this is why.”–
Her words are glued here so!… I remember
All as well as that sullen December,
That blustered and bullied about them and
Spat stiff its spiteful and cold-cutting snow
Where they talked there dreamily hand in hand,
While the rubbing boughs clashed rattling low.
Her last words these, “By curfew sure
On Christmas eve at the postern door.”
And we were there, and a void horse too:
Armed: for a journey I hardly knew
Whither, but why you well can guess.
I could have uttered a certain name–
Our comrade’s sure–of what loveliness!
Waited with love, impatience aflame.
While Raglan bulged its baronial girth
To roar to its battlements Yule and song;
Retainers loud rollicked in wassail and mirth
Where the mistletoe ’round the vast hearths hung,
And holly beberried the elden wall
Of curious oak in the banqueting hall.
And the spits, I trow, by the scullions turned
O’er the snoring logs, rich steamed and burned
With flesh; where the whole wild-boar was roasted
And the dun-deer flanks and the roebuck haunches;
Fat tuns of ale, that the cellars boasted,
Old casks of wine were broached for paunches
Of the vassals that reveled in bower and stall;
Pale pages who diced and bluff henchmen who quarr’led
Or swore in their cups, while lean mastiffs all,
O’er bones of the feast in their kennels snarled;
For Hortense–drink! drink!–by the Virgin’s leave,
Were wed to this Lovell this Christmas Eve.
“Was she long–Did she come?”… By that postern we
Like shadows lurked. Said my lord Sir Hugh:
“Yon tower, remember!–that casement, see!–
When a stealthy light in its slit burns blue
And signals thrice slowly, thus–’tis she.”
And about his person his gaberdine drew,
For the wind it hugged and the snow beat thro’.
Did she come?–We had watched for an hour or twain
Ere that light burned there in the central pane
And was flourished thrice and departed so.
Then closer we packed to the postern portal
Horses and all in the stinging snow.
Stiff with the cold was I.–Immortal
Minutes we waited breath-bated and listened
Shuddering there in the gusty gale.
Whizzing o’er parapets sifted and glistened
Wild drift, thro’ battlements hissed in a veil.
Quoth my lord Sir Hugh, for his love was a-heat,
“She feels for the spring in the hidden panel
‘Neath the tapestry … ah! thou hast pressed it, sweet!
–How black gulps open the secret channel!
Now cautiously step, and thy bridal garb
Swirled warm with a mantle o’ fur … she plants
One foot–then a pause–on the stair–So, Barb,
So!–If the tempest that barks and pants
Would throttle itself with its yelps! then I
Might hear but one footstep echo and sing
Down the ugly … there! ’tis her fingers try
The massy bolts which the rust makes cling.”
But ever some whim of the wind that shook
The clanging ring of a creaking hook
In the buttress or wall; and we waited so
Till the East grew gray. Did she come?–ah, no!
I must tell you why, and enough: ‘Tis said
On the eve of the marriage she fled the side
Of the baron, the bridegroom too she fled,
With a mischievous laugh, “_I’ll hide! I’ll hide!_
Seek! and be sure to seek well!” and led
A wild chase after her, but defied
All search for–a score and ten more years,
And the laughter of Yule was changed to tears.
But they searched and the snow was bleared with the glare
Of torches that hurried thro’ chamber and stair;
And tower and court re-echoed her name,
But she laughed no answer and never came.
So over the channel to France with his King
And the Black Prince, sailed to the wars–to deaden
The ache of the mystery–Hugh that Spring,
And fell at Poitiers: for his loss lay leaden
On hope, and his life was a weary sadness,
So he flung it away with a very gladness.
And the baron died–and the bridegroom, well,–
Unlucky that bridegroom, sooth!–to tell
Of him there is nothing. The baron died;
The last of the Strongbows he, gramercy!
And the Clare estate with its wealth and its pride
Devolved to the Bloets, Walter or Percy.
Ten years and a score thereafter. And they
Ransacked the old castle and mark!–one day
In a lonesome tower uprummaged a chest
From Flanders, of sinister ebon, carved
Sardonic with masks ’round an olden crest,
Gargoyle faces distorted and starved:
Fast fixed with a spring which they forced and lo!
When they opened it–ha, Hortense!–or, no!–
Fantastic a skeleton jeweled and wreathed
With flowers of dust, and a minever
About it hugged, which quaint richness sheathed
Of a bridal raiment and lace with fur.
–I’d have given such years of my life–yes, well!–
As were left me then so her lover, Hugh,
For such time breathed as it took one to tell
How she forever, deemed false, was true!
He’d have known how it was, “For, you see, in groping
For the puny spring of that panel–hoping
And fearing as nearer and nearer grew
The boisterous scramble–why, out she blew
Her windy taper and quick–in this chest
Wary would lie for–a minute, mayhap,
Till the hurry all passed; but the death-lock pressed
–Ere her heart was aware–with a hungry snap.”
(Madison Julius Cawein)
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Based on Keywords: ransacked, clifford, broached, scrawls, thus-, baronial, sardonic, bullied, thrashed, hawker, gulps
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